It was Board president Shashank Manohar who, early March, took an unusually strong stand and, while canceling the scheduled auction process for two new franchises, clearly established the IPL as nothing more than a sub-set of the BCCI, and that he, not IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi, was the ultimate authority.
Speaking on Manohar’s behalf, BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah said then:
“The tournament has been launched under the BCCI banner and the committee, which runs the tournament and sets the rules and regulations for the franchises, is formed by the cricket board. The BCCI is the final authority in all cricket-related matters in the country. It is mandatory to have the BCCI president’s approval before the IPL committee decides on anything.”
I’m guessing that must have rankled with Modi, who is prone to considering himself a power in his own right. In fact, while the BCCI hierarchy has to go through the election process, however stage-managed, each year, Modi managed to get an uninterrupted five-year term as IPL commissioner, arguing at the launch of the league that a new venture of this kind needed long-term leadership.
At the time of the auction fiasco, newspapers had with elephantine subtlety suggested that one of the key players responsible for the postponement was ‘a suave Central minister from Kerala’ [camouflage as effective as saying ‘a turban-wearing Sikh with a reputation as an economist who happens to be head of state of a major nation’].
For a Modi smarting under Manohar’s strictures [and stymied, one suspects, in his plans of deciding who the next franchises should be], Tharoor now offers the perfect target. And with a directness that could well prove hubristic, he fired off his volleys through the medium of Twitter. In a series of posts, Modi posted details of the breakdown of the consortium that posted the winning bid from the Kochi franchise.
The move is hardly subtle. What Modi is pointing at, in earlier comments and now in this Twitter series, is a sequence of events that read thusly: 1. Shashi Tharoor was at least in part responsible for the cancelation of the original auction. 2. Tharoor wanted Kerala to win a franchise, and played an active back room role in steering the winning bid. 3. The Rendezvous Group, one of the stakeholders of Kochi, has given free equity to various individuals, including one Sunanda Pushkar, who is believed to be a ‘close personal friend’ of Shashi Tharoor.
Not only does Modi invite you to do the quid pro quo math, he then rubbed it in when, in response to a question on his Twitter, he said:
I was told by him not to get into who owns rendezvous. Specially Sunanda Pushkar.Why? The same has been minuted in my records.
So now it’s war. Kochi has already demarcated its battlefield — it will take Modi to task for breaching confidentiality clauses in the contract.
Modi’s revelations have clearly hurt the owners of Kochi. “It was not expected from a body like the IPL,” a senior member of the consortium told Cricinfo. “The documents are very clear that information submitted is confidential and cannot be revealed by either side.”
The franchise now wants the IPL to reveal the ownership details of the nine other franchises. “What we are trying to say is the documents we have submitted to him are supposed to be kept confidential. But if he is letting out the information on our consortium then we would like to be informed of the details of all the owners of the IPL teams, including the individual shareholders, as he has done for us,” the source said.
Modi has been insisting that all details regarding the ownership of the other franchises are in the public domain — but in fact, they are not. At least, not completely — in all cases, the surface ownership is public, but the hidden details are not. And it is there, in the details, that the devil lurks for Modi, whose ties with various franchises are no secret.
These links are, Modi had said when first questioned about it, not a problem. For instance, on his relationship with Mohit ‘Dabur’ Burman, whose brother Gaurav is married to Modi’s daughter, the commissioner said:
“So what if Mohit Burman’s brother is related to me? He is not a part of the IPL.”
You can almost hear that argument being echoed, any day soon, by the Kochi franchise:
So what if we give away free equity to some one dozen people? It is our money, we can do what we want with it.
So what if Sunanda Pushkar has personal ties to Shashi Tharoor? He is not part of the IPL.
Tharoor has, in his official statement, clearly drawn the battle lines: he says he is not directly involved with the franchise — which ironically is what Modi too had said earlier; more to the point, the statement says this is not about the minister and his lady friend, but about Modi not wanting the franchise to go to Kerala — an argument designed to rally the state to the minister’s defense. [Meanwhile his OSD, Jacob Joseph, has been upping the ante, using his Twitter stream and the TV cameras to call Modi a cokehead and drug pusher; significantly, Joseph is also harping on the Kerala versus Modi theme with a fair degree of shrillness].
But the real catch is that Modi has, through his hasty action, turned the political blowtorch on the BCCI. Behind the scenes, enormous pressure is now being brought on Manohar and the board honchos to take action — and this comes at a time when the government has already made various moves against the IPL and the BCCI, including withdrawing the tax exemption the board has traditionally enjoyed.
“The [tax] exemption was disallowed for the year 2007-08 as it was held that the BCCI is no longer promoting cricket as a charitable activity and is now primarily a commercial entity,” Palanimanickam was quoted by AFP as saying.
The income tax department also said there was “no element of charity” in the affairs of the BCCI. “Cricket is only incidental to its scheme of things,” it said in a statement. “It is more into prize money for every run or wicket, which is nothing short of a gimmick. The conduct of certain activities and receipt of income from these activities clearly show that these activities are totally commercial and there is no element of charity in the conduct of BCCI. It is evident that major income arises not from the game of cricket but from the business of cricket.”
If Tharoor was the only person in the cross hairs, Modi likely could have gotten away. Trouble is, many heavyweight politicians are involved in IPL ops, behind the scenes. To cite just one example, Praful Patel was known, at the time, to have used his clout to get the original auction postponed. Besides, too many of the BCCI honchos have a finger in the IPL pie — and once the Kochi franchise starts throwing mud around, there is no telling in what direction it will fly, and on whose face it will stick.
It is also no secret that the government has for a while been looking to bring the BCCI, at least partially, under its purview — and that possibility now looms large before Manohar and his cohorts. Hence the board president’s strong reaction to Modi’s latest misadventure — Manohar publicly stated that Modi’s actions were improper and in breach of contract, and then called for a hearing tomorrow.
What probably looked like a good idea at the time — throw some mud, get the Kochi franchise disqualified, call for another auction and steer it in the desired direction — is already looking like a mis-step of monumental proportions. And the fun is only just beginning — the next few weeks are, if there is anything to the background buzz the media antenna has been picking up, liable to be packed with a fair quota of drama, and some headaches for the IPL’s combative commissioner.